Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On author websites: a reader and web designer's take on it

There have been many blogs written about author websites; what works well and doesn't and what readers want. I thought I'd throw my hat into the ring, because I tweeted about a couple things yesterday and then thought this might be a better way to give folks the opportunity to add their two cents in more than 140 characters, if they so desired.

So, here are the things most important to me. Keep in mind, that I'm coming at it from the perspective of a designer and a code writer, but first and foremost, I am a customer of yours. As you'll see below, I'm a picky customer, but we all deal with those.

You are an author. I'm there to find out about your books. So please make them easy to find. Your site should be easy to navigate.

What I want to see:

  • Simple, straightforward navigation.
  • Books: already pubbed, forthcoming, backlist. I want them all.
  • Blurbs
  • Covers (not so huge that they overpower the rest of the information, but big enough that I'll recognize it on the bookshelf at Borders)
  • If a book is part of a series, let me know. And let me know the order of the series.
  • Links to where to purchase, if it's a hard-to-find or OOP book. If it's not? I know where to go.
  • A link to your bio
  • A link to your blog
  • I'm also a huge fan of sitemaps (which Google and Yahoo love, BTW, so they are search engine friendly and are more likely to get you indexed in the major search engines if done properly).
  • KEEP IT UP TO DATE. If you haven't updated your website in a year, and have 2 new releases in that time? Yeah, I'm not coming back.

All layed out in a logical fashion, easy, uncomplicated navigation so I can find what I came for.

What I don't mind:

  • Contest page
  • "Extras"

These are "nice to have's", but they aren't the reason that I go to an author's website.

What I don't want:

  • Music (especially autoplay, but I don't come to your site for music; I come for books)
  • Trailers: While I know a lot of folks like these, they are not the reason I come to your site. I usually don't watch these when they reside on an author's site. However, I will watch them if you post them on your blog. Go figure. I think it's a distraction from the reason I come to the actual site itself, though.
  • A "members only" section where you post chapters, etc that normal folks like me don't get to see. If you want to require me to sign up for your newsletter to see these, that's one thing (although I hate that, too.) But to require me to remember yet another login and password? Forget it.
  • Complicated navigation where I have to click through 5 or 6 pages to find your books. NO!
  • Huge graphics and lots of scripts: They make a site load slowly - especially in mobile.
  • Images of naked guys (and girls, but let's face it - it's usually the guys) that aren't safe for me to view at work without getting my ass fired for viewing pornography. (BTW, this goes for blogs, too.)

And now for the visual:

  • Header: Your header should be just that: an image or menu at the head (read TOP) of the page. If your header takes up half the page, I have to scroll below the fold just to see content. Bad idea. I know those pretty images are nice and all, but they aren't why I'm coming to your site.
  • Colors: Your background and text colors (and fonts) are the most important thing you can do visually on your site. If the site is hard to read, either because the font is too small, or the text color is too light, then I won't visit you. If the background is dark, I have a hard time visiting on my mobile device because it's too hard to read. Personally, for content I like a white (or light) background and dark text (black or something similar). As my eyes are now firmly ensconced in their 5th decade, I need easy to see. If I have to squint to read it? Bad. If you want the frame to be dark, I have no problem with that. Be as creative as you'd like. But I need to be able to actually see and read the content.
  • Flash: Before I start, let me say that I think Flash is a great application. I use it at work. It definitely has its time and place (although much of what's done in Flash can be done with a javascript accessible to all). Having said that: I hate sites done completely in Flash for a number of reasons. First, when I go to write a review, I will often copy the blurb from an author's site (and give credit, of course). But when your site is written all in Flash, I can't copy and paste, which means I go elsewhere for the blurb, and you might not like that copy as much as what you've placed on your own site. I also like to copy and paste book lists into Excel so that I can track those books that I want to read. In Flash? Again, no copy and paste. Last, I have an iPhone. iPhones don't recognize Flash. So if I'm using my phone, I can't visit your site. Period.

The web is becoming about two things: content and discoverability. If I can't find your site when I google you, you have a problem. And if I can't read or navigate your site when I get there to see the content, you have a bigger problem.

One last note about reading on a mobile device: my phone is where I go through my Google Reader. I'd rather not click through to the site to read a blog post. I'll click through if I want to comment, but just to read the post? No thanks. So if you only put a partial feed on your blog, it gets deleted from my blogroll. Immediately. I don't care how interesting your posts are. If I can't read them all at once, I won't read them at all.

Mobile devices are changing the way we surf the net. I read this great article from Wired (which is a site I monitor in my day job). Basically, the gist is that a person can be online all day, and never once use the "web" as we've come to know it (ie, a laptop, PC or Mac). On my phone, I check my email, click through a link in an email to a website and view that site. I read Facebook and post to it. I read Twitter and tweet. I listen to music. I can read the newspaper or this week's issue of Time. Then I go onto my XBox and hook up with friends to play games. Then, when the game is over, I watch a movie streaming through the XBox from Netflix. All that time, I've been using the internet, but not the traditional web.

My point is this: websites need to be mobile friendly. This means optimizing for mobile. You don't know how to write in HTML5 yet? No worries. Simple, basic things make it easier for a mobile user to access your site. White/light background for content and easy to read dark text. Simple, straightforward navigation. Minimize logins so I don't have to type while I browse. Clean code so that the site isn't bogged down and runs faster. And once again, let me reiterate. If your site is written completely in Flash, the majority of mobile users can't read it.

Remember what it is that you want people to do on your site. But more important than what you want them to do, is what they want to do. What is the primary purpose of a customer/reader/whatever when they visit your site? Is it to find out about your books so they can BUY them? Is it to read your blog? Is it to network (which, BTW, should be done via your blog & other networking sites that you should feel free to link to from your site)? Once you know that, it makes it much easier to design your navigation and content.

What do you like or not like about author's websites? If you are an author, do you think about mobile users when you design your site and your blog? Or do you still prefer the pretty and shiny? And BTW, I think you can have both easy and pretty & shiny. I do. But be smart about the way you do it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lori's August reads

Better late than never. I'm starting to find it difficult to track my reads. This is definitely the furthest I've ever made it into the year. I had a bit of a slump last month, in that I didn't really want to read anything on my pile. So I spent the month rereading and coming back to my comfort genres; historicals and romaantic suspense. The rereads were the Hearts of the South series, which I absolutely adore. Many of the things that bothered me so much last time I read the series didn't irk me as much this ttime around. Huh. Anyway... I ended up reading 24 books over the month, bringing my total for the year to 189. Only 1 5-star read, but several 4.5 star reads.

A Kiss to Kill (Passion For Danger, #3) by Bruhns, Nina: 4 stars
Another fun entry in the series.

The Lawman's Redemption by Crooks, Pam: 2 stars
The heroine drove me batshit crazy. She alternated between blaming the hero for her family's woes and noting that her brother and mother weren't the most upstanding folks. She never did acknowledge that they brought their fate upon themselves. I never did see what the hero saw in her. She seemed immature emotionally and unrealistic, constantly blaming Jack for everything. Even afyer she tried to kill him and she kept her pregnancy secret, he still accepted her without any qualms. I wanted her to grovel and grovel hard. Her inconsistent behavior ruined the book for me, unfortunately.

A Little Bit Wild (York, #1) by Dahl, Victoria: 3.5 stars
I liked the story, a lot, but there were a few things that bothered me. First, the first couple chapters were devoted to how ugly Jude is, in the heroine's opinion. Saying it once, maybe even twice would have been sufficient for me. So that threw me right at the beginning of the book.

Second, and perhaps more important, the heroine is selfish and spoiled. And yes, I understand that's the point and that Dahl goes out of her way to show it, but Marissa came to her realizations too late in the book for my wholehearted approval. However, I did like that the hero loved her for that, and for who she was. I also really liked that they both grew and learned about themselves and each other in order to become more accepting.

Loved that by the end of the book, what Marissa saw in the beginning as unattractive features on Jude, at the end struck her as intensely masculine (yum) and perfect for him. (And her).

Lots of bits of humor as well, to keep me entertained. Dahl has a wicked sense of humor, and it shines through. Love that.

And the opening? I really liked it. Very different for a historical, for sure.

Her other historicals have been far more serious (and I admit that I enjoyed them more). This one reads like one of her contemporaries voice-wise, but in the historical setting.

On These Silken Sheets by Darby, Sabrina: 3 stars
Interesting, but I felt like there was so much sex that it drowned out the stories.

The Longest Night by Dees, Cindy: 4 stars
I love Charlie squad. Dees has really brought this team to life. Howdy has always been a character that's been hard to pin a personality on. But I loved how he empowered Shannon and how she brought him back to the land of feeling.

Because the book takes place over such a short period of time, you're required to suspend belief, but I'm willing to do it with this team of soldiers. Another wonderful entry in her series.

Deadly Fear (Deadly, #1) by Eden, Cynthia: 4 stars
I was a bit worried in the beginning that there would be a lot of sex on the run and in completely unprofessional situations. As the book went on, by the 3rd or 4th chapter, Eden seemed to settle down to the story. And although there was still some inappropriate sex, it fit better into the book as it went on.

I really liked the suspense portion, and thought it creepy enough to satisfy me. Looking forward to the 2nd book!

Stolen Kisses by Enoch, Suzanne: 4 stars
Cute but not memorable.

The Icing on the Cake by Kent, Alison: 4 stars
Very interesting - the first group of reality-based romances to be released. I liked it but I felt like I was a voyeur, and that made me a little uncomfortable.

Married By Morning (The Hathaways, #4) by Kleypas, Lisa: 4.5 stars
I love Leo. He maintained his irreverent personaliy and Catherine was ascerbic and gave as good as she got.

What keeps this from 5 stars is that I thought she held out too long. Her indecision lasted too long and began to grate on my nerves.

Love in the Afternoon (The Hathaways, #5) by Kleypas, Lisa: 4.5 stars
Loved Beatrix's book. I'm a big damaged hero fan, and I loved how accepting Beatrix was of Christopher. The ""we'll get through it together"" theme rather than ""you'll be ok"" makes me feel good - acknowledgement that there is an issue, but that they were a team. It wasn't Christopher's problem to fix, but theirs. A terrific ending to the series.

Heaven Forbids by Ranney, Karen: 3.5 stars
This reads much like Ranney's early work - has an epic feel of love found, lost, and found once again. It felt a little more disjointed than others I've read from her, however, and also was a little more morally ambiguous. The hero and heroine fall in love at first sight, but he is married to her niece. It would have been easier to accept had Sarah been a horrible person, but she wasn't.

As Sarah descends into madness (brought on by an OD of laudanum?), Hugh and Kathryn love more and feel guilty as well. But they are unable to turn away from one another. Once they do, they are both miserably unhappy.

In the end, they come back together following a multitude of tragedies.

If you can overlook adultery in the face of true love, and can deal with the imperfections of an early book, then you will surely enjoy this book. If you can't, then I recommend you don't even try.

The Heat Is On by Shalvis, Jill: 4 stars
Loved how each admitted to themselves that they wanted more but I wish they'd told each other sooner. Reallyloved their chemistry, and great dialogue as always. Also enjoyed the secondary characters, Jacob's brothers especially. Another Shalvis winner.

Desiring the Highlander by Sinclair, Michele: 3.5 stars
I liked this one, but not as much as the other two. I thought Elle and Cole were both well-drawn and believable. I enjoyed the secondary characters, too. But a few things bothered me. First, there was a lot of internalizing. Next there was a lot of analysis of emotions with what I perceived to be modern verbiage. "Cole internalizes his emotions" just doesn't sound like something a 14th century woman would say. I was disappointed that Colin was barely mentioned. And that he and hiswife didn't appear for the wedding.

And last, this book contained my latest pet peeve. A kidnapping for no reason. The conflict could have been handled another way, but I just knew a kidnapping was coming and I awaited it with dread. Authors, please stop with the "kidnapping as climax" endings. I beg of you!

So overall I liked this one, but there were a few things that bothered me.

The Chesapeake Diaries: Home Again by Stewart, Mariah: 3.5 stars
I didn't care for this one as much as the first in the series, but I'll definitely still be reading more.

What Mattered Most (Hearts of the South prequel) by Winfree, Linda: 4 stars
Suh a great start to the series. Although I knew what was going on, I have to admit that Lainie bothered me a little more this time around. I don't know why - she acted completely consistently with a head injury, and that is good, but it still bugged me that she was so unyielding.

Truth and Consequences (Hearts of the South, #1) by Winfree, Linda: 4 stars
While the villains are over the top, I really enjoyed everything else about this book.

His Ordinary Life (Hearts of the South, #2) by Winfree, Linda: 5 stars
I love the marriage in trouble trope. Winfree treats it with respect and has both characters accept responsibility and grow and learn. Something about her characters' emotions speaks to me. I always feel kicked in the gut when I read one of her books. Here, Del and Barbara aren't perfect. Tgey each come across as selfish occasionally as well as giving and loving and troubled and in love an all the other things that happen when two people love each other but are committed to working itout. Their kids are also portrayed realistically in their actions and emotions. I liked that even while having difficulties as a couple, they never played the kids to their own advantage. They presented a united front and did what was best for the kids.

I loved this even more the second time around.

Hold On to Me (Hearts of the South, #3) by Winfree, Linda: 4 stars
Tick & Cait's book. Loved it.

Anything But Mine (Hearts of the South, #4) by Winfree, Linda: 4 stars
Another great entry in the series. Winfree doesn't back away from the heartache, that's for sure. She always delivers an emotional kick in the gut.

Memories of Us (Hearts of the South, #5) by Winfree, Linda: 4 stars
Celia and Tom's book. My heart broke for her. And I just loved Tom.

Hearts Awakened (Hearts of the South, #6) by Winfree, Linda: 4.5 stars
As before, love Mark and Tori. Tick being a jerk about Mark still bothered me, but not as much as the first read. Loving rereading this series.

Fall Into Me (Hearts of the South, #7) by Winfree, Linda: 4 stars
Love Troy Lee. Love Angel, especially once she got over her older woman/younger man issues. Love their relationship. Am now afraid to let my teenage boy back in the car. Hate the epilogue. Still.

Facing It (Hearts of the South, #8) by Winfree, Linda: 4 stars
I loved both Ruthie and Chris. But I felt that the romance happened too quickly for Ruthie's past, and it bothered me that that Ruthie was the one who instigated the hurried pace.

I like that they agreed to go slowly, though (even if they couldn't keep to that promise). It showed they were both wary (Chris especially) and that they were aware of potential issues.

However, even though I thought it all happened too fast, I thought that Winfree handled the domestic violence aspect absolutely fantastically. She has a way of dealing with deep emotional issues that cuts right to the heart of the matter.

Chris is one of my favorite Winfree heroes, throughout the series.

Uncovered (Hearts of the South, #9) by Winfree, Linda: 4 stars
Last time I gave this a 3. This time it gets a 4. Ash is a great guy, and Maddie grew on me this time. I do love how Winfree weaves the other characters into subsequent stories, and although I still felt like the series is becoming the Tick & Cait show, it felt a bit more balanced to me on the reread.

I've heard that after a hiatus, Winfree is back writing again. Cannot wait to read another from her.

September is proving to be a fairly slow month for me, but I'm incredibly busy at work, and will be so through the entire month. I'm testing web code again for a huge release, so am putting in extra hours and am totally drained by the end of each day. Not a lot of energy left to read. :(

Friday, September 10, 2010

Stand Up 2 Cancer

As I sit here watching the Stand Up 2 Cancer telethon, I've found myself tearing up many times. It's really been beautifully done from what I've seen of it so far.

Cancer and stroke are the two causes that I fight to find a cure for all year long. My dad died 6 years ago today from multiple strokes of unknown etiology. My grandparents all had cancer - for two of them, it was their cause of death. I have many friends who have suffered from cancer, some who have survived, and others who have not. My brother-in-law had melanoma. My mom just lost her best friend two weeks ago from complications from her cancer treatment. My oldest child is named for my husband's grandmother, who passed away from leukemia about 2 weeks before he was born.

Yet, we also have many, many friends who have had a happy ending. My husband's musical partner is a survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. And that is due to positive thinking, wonderful treatment and physicians, amazing families, and the grace of G-d.  The wonderful treatment they received wouldn't be possible without incredible people like you, who support the cause; who support finding a cure in deed as well as in word.

I hope that you will support me in my quest to find a cure for cancer by donating to my Walk for Life. You can donate on my page here. If everyone I know donated only $10, I could make my goal with ease. But even if you can only donate $5, or even $1, you will be making a huge difference in the lives of so many. Every penny counts. I'm so pleased that this year, it's a family affair again. My kids are both walking, and youngest is raising money as well. My husband's band will be performing at the event again, too. And oldest will be walking the graveyard shift with his friends like they do each year (ahhh, the stamina of a teenager!).

This song was written for a friend of my husband's who passed away from lung cancer at age 30. She was a non-smoker and had no family history. A couple weeks later, my husband's grandmother passed away. Mary Carves the Chicken dedicated this song to both of them. I hope you'll listen to it.

Great Wide Open

Please, please help out. All it takes is a few clicks of your mouse. And for those of you who have donated to my walk each and every year, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are heroes, each and every one of you.

Donate here. And thank you for your heroism.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

ARC: The Icing on the Cake by Alison Kent

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match . . . dot com! An on-line dating service is not Michelle Snow’s idea of how to find love but when the Big 3-0 hits, Michelle decides she has nothing to lose since she hasn’t brought a date home in ten years, she’s professionally burned out, and her climb up the corporate ladder has come at the expense of abandoning her sweet dream: to own a boutique cupcakery.

Todd Bracken, early 30s and a successful technology consultant, isn’t exactly a player after being off the market for ten years, and pours himself into his dual passions of martial arts and home-sweet-home renovations. Only there’s no one to come home to so he decides to give Match.com a try. Todd isn’t so sure the Internet dating scene is his thing—until a message pops up in the wee hours on a weekend night: "I like your smile." Todd likes—a lot—the whole package that glides into a French bistro in Washington, D.C.

It’s serious mojo-at-first-sight but there’s a glitch: Todd and Michelle live in different cities. Will love find its way in the digital age with a You’ve Got Mail courtship when video cam kisses just aren’t enough? And when Todd challenges Michelle to not only go for her dream but let him share it, will they be able to make it happen together despite obstacles more plentiful than a shower of rainbow sprinkles?


This is one of the first three reality based romances from HCI. The blurb from the HCI site is a little misleading because Todd and Michelle only live an hour away from each other. The blurb gives the impression that they are super far apart and have to deal with a long distance romance. Not the case.

When her friends force her to sign up for a month on match.com, Michelle is skeptical, but agrees. Her first match is with Todd. They exchange a few texts, and meet up almost immediately. They both feel the click right away.

It’s interesting to read a book about a true-life romance for a number of reasons. I felt a little voyeuristic. OK, I felt a lot voyeuristic. And plus, this romance just happened, is still happening – it’s not far in the past. I wondered how this couple felt having their love lives splashed all over. But even so, I really enjoyed this book.

I admit to feeling a little bit on the outside looking in at first. That voyeuristic thing. But once I got past that, I really liked it. For those of you who like conflict in their romances, you won’t find it here. There’s only two people meeting, falling in love, and dealing with real-life issues: the loss of a job, the loss of a parent, But it’s also a story about living out your dreams and supporting one another. And all the giddiness of falling in love with that special someone who just “gets” you.

This is definitely a 21st century romance, with much of the initial contact and wooing happening via text messaging. Which is such a foreign concept to me. Yes, I’m that old – there were no cell phones when hubby and I were dating and getting married. But the texting between Todd and Michelle takes the place of the love letters that we used to write. They flirted and felt deeply in those texts. Had the phone been a piece of paper, I could envision Michelle clasping that letter to her chest and sighing after reading a text from Todd.

The biggest conflict is Michelle’s indecision about starting her own business after she gets laid off from her job. She is understandably wishy-washy about starting up a small business in this economy, potentially losing everyting and reluctant to ask her parents to invest at such a risky time. But Todd supports her all the way, pushes her even, because he knows it will make her happy.

I adored Todd. Which creeps me out a little to say, since he’s a real person, LOL. He’s funny, self-deprecating, smart, cute, and he has a dimple. And he supports and loves Michelle with everything he is and everything he has. What’s not to love? In turn, she’s self-sufficient, smart, beautiful, and funny. The just get each other right from the start. How lovely for them.

Alison Kent writes wonderful contemporaries. This had a different feel to it than her other books. Had I not known it was a Kent book, I likely wouldn't have guessed it. There are no graphic sex scenes (which I actually found myself grateful for), there’s no suspense, there’s no dark, mysterious hero. But it does have the wonderfully descriptive writing that I associate with Kent. And she’s a fabulous storyteller. Once I got past the “peeping Tom” feeling, I was drawn into the story, wanting it all to work out for Todd and Michelle without all the drama. Because there’s nothing that feels as good as being totally comfortable with the one you love, and enjoying fun times but also enjoying being quiet with them.

If you like low-conflict love stories written about two really nice, mature people who know what they want, falling in love then this is for you. It’s well written and engaging. If you need lots of conflict, then I suggest you look elsewhere.
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